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NFL free agency rumors: Chargers reportedly expected to be ‘heavily involved’ with Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson

Related: Why didn’t the Patriots use the franchise tag on J.C. Jackson?

New England Patriots v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

J.C. Jackson is arguably the top defensive player available in free agency this year, meaning that the New England Patriots will face plenty of competition if they want to retain the Pro Bowl cornerback. One of the teams expected to be vying for Jackson’s services as well are the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Chargers are expected to be “heavily involved” in the process, according to NFL Network’s Mike Giardi. Los Angeles making a push for Jackson would not be a surprise.

Not only did the team already show some aggressiveness last week by trading for star edge rusher Khalil Mack, it also still has around $21.8 million in salary cap space available (per Over the Cap). For comparison, the Patriots are currently at $10.2 million, via Miguel Benzan, and that number does not yet include the new one-year contract signed by safety Devin McCourty.

There is another aspect to be considered as well, as pointed out by NBC Sports’ Peter King on Monday: Jackson and Chargers safety Derwin James know each other since their high school days.

I think the Chargers’ approach will continue today with an early run at a couple of targets in free agency. One will be Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson, the NFL’s leader in interceptions over the past three seasons. He hasn’t missed a game over the past three years, he’s only 26, and he’s a good buddy and former Florida high school 7-on-7 teammate of Chargers safety Derwin James. But I don’t think Jackson will be the only Chargers’ target of the early tampering period, and they won’t be solely focused on filling a cornerback need (Chargers allowed 27 TD passes last year) with Jackson if the money gets out of control.

A former undrafted rookie who first joined the NFL with the Patriots in 2018, Jackson has appeared in a combined 67 regular season and playoff games over the course of his career. Not only did he earn a Super Bowl ring and one Pro Bowl nomination, he also intercepted 25 passes over the past four season — the highest such number in the NFL over that span.

Now headed for unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career, Jackson is reportedly seeking an average of $20 million per season on a new deal. Whether or not the Chargers, the Patriots or any other team will be willing to pay him that much will be seen, but the chances of him pricing himself out of New England’s range are likely.